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Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Updated: October 28, 5:36 PM ET
Kiss that curse goodbye

By Jim Caple
ESPN.com

ST. LOUIS -- It can't really be this easy, can it?

After 86 years, Boston can't do it this easily, can it? After Bill Buckner's error and Bill Lee's Eephus pitch and Johnny Pesky's relay, the Red Sox can't really win it this easily, can they? After Mookie Wilson and Ed Armbrister and Enos Slaughter, the Red Sox can't let their fans off without at least one kick to the stomach, one anguished moment requiring a 911 call, at least one ball through the legs that sends fans into the streets howling at the moon?

Boston Celebrate
A show of hands is a show of strength for Boston.

The Red Sox can't bury more than eight decades of misery, failure and ghosts and really sweep the World Series can they?

Perhaps not. But if you live in Boston, it's probably a good idea to keep your car off the street tonight when the Sox go for the sweep in Game 4 against St. Louis.

"It's a tremendous feeling,'' Kevin Millar said of being one win shy of Boston's first world championship since 1918. "It would be like a dream. What a thrill it would be for our fans -- they could finally tear up those '1918' signs. I've only been with this team for two years but I really feel for the guys who have been dying for this for 50 years. You really feel their pain.

"It's a great situation for us but coming off fresh from a series where we were down 3-0 to the Yankees, we know the Cardinals are very capable of coming back and doing the same thing to us. We've got to find a way to find that last win and it's going to be the toughest.''

True, true. The Red Sox rallied from a 3-0 deficit just last week. As St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said, "You've got to notice -- it shows it's possible.'' But so what? The Red Sox were the first team to do such a thing in a century of postseason baseball and we're not going to see it happen twice in a week. The Sox haven't even trailed since the eighth inning of Game 5 against New York, winning seven in a row.

"We all know we just want to play one more game,'' Johnny Damon said. "Now we've just got to show up and play.''

Actually, the way the Cardinals are playing, the Red Sox pretty much just have to show up. "We haven't been the club people have been used to seeing,'' Reggie Sanders said.

Not unless people are used to watching a team with Chico's Bail Bonds on the back of its jerseys.

The Cardinals were the best team in the National League this season but you wouldn't know it from this series. They've trailed in every single inning. They haven't had a starting pitcher go five innings. They've walked 18 batters and hit four others. They're 3-for-24 with runners in scoring position. The heart of the order has one RBI. Cleanup hitter Scott Rolen (0-for-11) and No. 5 hitter Jim Edmonds (1-for-11) have just an infield single between them in 22 at-bats. The Cardinals' idea of a rally has been to let Tim Wakefield walk them and hope Manny Ramirez drops a ball.

Jeff Suppan
Jeff Suppan gets caught in no man's land.

Worse, St. Louis somehow had runners on third base thrown out by Manny and David Ortiz to kill early rallies in Game 3. Squandering chances in the postseason is never good but getting thrown out within 90 feet of home plate by those two is like bungling a robbery so badly that Barney Fife and Inspector Clouseau are able to track you down.

Oh, and the Cardinals also whined about their hotel in Boston being too far from Fenway Park and not having late-night room service.

Well, the Boston hotel won't be a problem this weekend because the Cardinals aren't going back. No matter the talk in their clubhouse about how they won four games in a row plenty of times this season and just need to do it again.

The most damaging aspect for St. Louis has been its complete inability to put away Boston's hitters. Time and again Cardinals pitchers get one strike away from dispatching the Red Sox and can't close them out. They've allowed 10 two-strike hits, nine two-strike RBI and nine two-out runs.

"They've got a great team and a great lineup,'' said Game 4 starter Jason Marquis, who will try to extend the season tonight. "We've got to do better about getting ahead early and not letting the count get to 2-2 and 3-2 with them fouling off a lot of pitches.''

The thing is, the Cardinals could be leading this series 3-0. Boston fans could be moaning about the flyball that almost bounced off Manny's head in Game 1 or the grounders that Bill Mueller botched in Game 2 or any of the sort of blunders that always has doomed the Red Sox in past postseasons. But none have made a bit of difference this year. This time, it's the other team that is tripping over its shoelaces, missing second base (Reggie Sanders in Game 2) and forgetting how many outs there were (Albert Pujols in Game 3).

Even the St. Louis fans, always considered as the most enthusiastic and supportive in baseball, began booing their team Tuesday night. Prior to this series, such a response would have required someone intentionally spiking Stan Musial but St. Louis fans are disgusted by their team's play. It got so bad that at several points that Boston fans were drowning them out with "Let's Go, Red Sox'' chants.

So, here the Red Sox are. Just one little victory from exorcizing nearly a century of demons. They send Derek Lowe, the pitcher who saved their season in Game 4 last week against the Yankees, to the mound against Marquis. The champagne is probably already on ice.

When the Red Sox lost their past four World Series, they always did so painfully, stretching the series out to an agonizing seventh game before failing in the end. That they may not even need a fifth game this year is almost inconceivable. After all the Red Sox have gone through over the decades, it's simply hard to believe they could be this close to winning, banging the ball, pitching well, comfortably ahead 3-0 and with Calvin Schiraldi, Bob Stanley and Buckner nowhere near the field.

Then again, it's hard to believe they could be here after they fell behind the Yankees 3-0, so we've already suspended all credibility.

"To be where we are right now after where we came from is just an amazing story in itself,'' Curt Schilling said. "The toughest 27 outs we've ever played are coming now.''

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.